Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Me and David Bowie (RIP)

Everybody has a story about what music they were exposed to and how it influenced them.
I think my experience is a bit more diverse than most. In Inwood, most kids (after a certain age) were told what to listen to by the DJs on WPLJ.

My dad had several niches in the music spectrum that influenced me. Lots of Broadway plays dating back to the 50s (maybe older). Lots of folk music like Pete Seegar, Peter, Paul and Mary, etc. At the beach he always had the radio tuned to an "easy listening" station, which is a whole other subject (no room to talk about that here except to say that I heard that A LOT). And long drives in the car between LBI and NYC we'd listen to some big band and old blues like Lena Horn or Billie Holiday.

My oldest brother exposed me to a lot of rock music... lots of the classics, but also some more obscure stuff like Jefferson Airplane, Grand Funk Railroad... lots of other stuff. And at least one Bowie album... "Changesonebowie". It was a "best of" album and it contained "Space Oddity" which completely blew my 5th grade mind.

Of course there was a ton of other stuff... pop songs from a.m. radio, etc. Let's not forget the novelty albums like "Loony Tunes" or the  Dr. Demento show. But if anyone asked, I'd confidently and accurately say "I'm a Beatles fan".

By the time I got my own stereo late in the 70s, while most people were listening to WPLJ, I found WPIX which was ushering in The New Wave. This was great for a kid trying to build an identity which would make me stand out (and maybe get chicks.). There were also a bunch of other weird music outlets I was exposed to... most importantly Public Access Television. I saw a live call in show where these freaks who called themselves "The Sex Pistols" answered phone calls and cursed out whoever was on the line. I also found "The Uncle Floyd" show which brought all sorts of semi-famous bands to my screen... including The Ramones.

Well Public Access had a few video shows long before MTV was even a pipe dream. Who was making videos back then? Well David Bowie had a few back in '79... very weird and obscure. I swear I'm the only one in the world who saw a lot of these show... though I'm sure there are a few others like me. There was also this awesome chick called Ellen Foley, who I'm still in love with... and saw her live a couple of years ago in a small club in NYC. (She's the one The Clash sings about when they sing "Should I stay or should I go now.")

Through all this I was aware of this underground music scene in NYC, and I even tried to get into Max's Kansas City once... and got laughed at by the bouncers. (The band was The Sick F*CKS... I'll tell you more about them some time).

I guess we were still in High School when J-man, myself, and Gerrard Foster went to the 8th Street Playhouse to see "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars". Well still to this day I think that film captured the APEX of ... uh... well something... that underground glam-rock scene that fits somewhere between New York Dolls and Peter Gabriel era Genesis. It totally blew my freaking mind. I was kind of confused when during the performance Bowie announced that this show would be his last... I mean we were all aware that he had released many albums since that performance. Of course he meant  it was the last show for "Ziggy Stardust".

Right around then the "Scary Monsters" album came out. It was a radical change for Bowie, who was just coming off what I now know are three very important albums... his "Berlin trilogy". He and Iggy Pop went to Germany to escape the crazy and deadly lifestyle they were leading in America... turns out Germany can get pretty crazy too. Anyway, I knew mostly nothing of those albums, but I bought Scary Monsters and played it out. In retrospect, it may have been a "jump the shark" album for Bowie... though most would call it a re-invention of himself. The next album was "Let's Dance", which had definitely jumped the shark, imo. It was hugely popular during my High School Prom... but I thought it was over-produced, pop-oriented, and lacked soul. This is DESPITE the fact that Stevie Ray Vaughn played guitar on that album.

So recently I procured Bowie's entire discography. (Like six months ago.) I was warned that his early stuff is a bit difficult. Certainly his very first album is pretty boring, but really everything else (up to but not including "Let's Dance") is really good. Not every song is a winner, but every album has some amazing features. And some things might not suite my every mood, but will sound good at another time. Diamond Dog is rock-n-roll gold. They all give this vibe of gritty underground activity that somehow should be hidden from polite society... but you're in on it. Lots of complex melodies and rhythms, and some good old kick ass rock-n-roll. Some wispy airy melodies too. He collaborates with producers like Brian Eno, and musicians like Robert Fripp.

I didn't listen to any of his albums since "Let's Dance", but did listen to the one he put out last year... and I plan on listening to the one from last week soon. From the bits I heard, they are interesting and entertaining... though not "rocking".